The Hand that Sows the Soil…
In traditional agriculture, the winter months of January-February are family time. After the hard work of autumn and the rush to get everything done in time, it’s the weather which dictates a slower pace and provides the farmer with shorter work days, a temporary respite from the never-ending toil, and a time for introspection– with hope and prayers for timely rain and bountiful harvests.
In this wintry spirit, I’m devoting some of this week’s Newsletter to the faces behind your–our– vegetables, the people who work all week preparing the earth, planting and seeding the vegetables, watering and fertilizing the growing plants, weeding and thinning the garden beds, trellising, covering or pruning if needed, and lastly, picking and packing the produce. There is a great deal of manual labor in vegetable growing, but in Chubeza, we believe that it doesn’t end with just the physical exertion. We all gain from the happiness and devotion our workers put into their efforts. When farming can be pursued in an environment of friendship and cooperation, concern and faith in the good earth, and out of a connection to nature and labor, this is all thanks to a good, talented team of diligent workers. I’d like to introduce you to them now. Each is of course a world within him/herself, but I tried to limit myself to one paragraph per person…
I established Chubeza over six years ago. Six months later, Alon Efrati joined, first as a worker, then as a manager. Finally he took over management of the entire farm, a burden he carries on his calm, strong shoulders to this day. Today he and I are partners in the management of Chubeza.
I arrived at Chubeza as a sort of retraining and career change, after spending most of my adult life in the realms of education and therapies. I did realize that an occupation that involves a lot of speaking and responsibility for the well being of human lives might be too hard for me. After several years of dealing with the difficult, even filthy, areas of life, I needed the peace and quiet offered by working alone in a green field—where the dirt is just mud and there’s a plethora of growth and blooming…Life’s interesting jolts led me to San Francisco Bay Area in California, where I took a local gardening course and started working in small farms that managed to survive, despite it all, in the heart of Silicon Valley. After two years in three farms, I returned to Israel bounding with western optimism, positive that I would be able to establish a CSA in the Promised Land.
I’ll spare you the sarcasm and cynicism (some would call it experience and realism) that I encountered when I first began. Yet, somehow I managed to move on, encouraged by support from family and friends, and most of all, my dear sister, who introduced me to Alon Efrati (one of the three Alon’s), who helped me nurture Chubeza then and now.
Alon, an agronomist by profession, brought the professional side and diploma to Chubeza. Unlike myself, Alon had known for some time that he would be a farmer. In his “post-Army-tiyul” he stayed in South Africa for a short while and worked in a small permaculture farm. While at school, he started a home vegetable garden to (literally) get his hands dirty. From the start, Alon brought a vast knowledge of medicinal herbs, wild plants and plants in general. To this day, he continues to contribute his knowledge, with modesty and a readiness to learn and understand more about farming. Our first years supplied many opportunities to learn—most of them the hard way–how, where, how much and when to grow quality vegetables. We’re still learning, but today we can happily say that the great vegetables you find in your boxes are first and foremost thanks to a talented, modest, calm and very intelligent farmer named Alon Efrati.
The next tribute to a Chubeza worker goes to Suwet– our most veteran worker, who arrived to Israel from a “moshav” (as he describes it) in the Chiang Mai area of north Thailand. Like other Thai workers, Suat came here initially to earn a living, but we were blessed with a smart, dedicated worker who has great knowledge from his own rich experience (he taught us about growing and picking ademame, the green soybean). But his success comes mostly from the love of his work. Today Suat is our field manager, infinitely capable of maneuvering his heavy workload with wisdom, calm, and a constant smile.
Next is Alon Karni from Mesilat Zion, who became interested in the organic farming of his yoga student (Alon Efrati) and eventually found himself, three and a half years ago, straining his body at Chubeza twice or three times weekly. Aside from being an excellent yoga teacher for children and adults, Alon teaches environmental studies at a boys school near Lod, where he instructs these youngsters how to grow vegetables, make natural buildings, and most of all– how to live, grow and enjoy it. On harvest days, Alon is in charge of the packinghouse, and he does this with skill, diligence and serenity.
Two years ago, Alon brought along his brother-in-law, Lobsang. Tibetan by birth, Lobsang was raised in India. Although he spent most of his life in the snowy mountains of northern India, he is Chubeza’s greatest hater of winter. But even on rainy, wet, cold days, he keeps up his good spirits, singing as he works. Beyond his agricultural skills, Lobsang is an amazing chef. After he came aboard, our cooking rotation quickly dissolved. The job went solely to Lobsang, who upgraded our hummus-based meals to true vegetable delicacies. If the sun and green haven’t yet convinced you to come visit, now we can bribe you with one of Lobsang’s renowned lunches…
At approximately the same time, two years ago, we were joined by Mohammed, who comes from Beit Likia, in the Judean Hills north of Chubeza. So close, really, only half an hour by bike, but over the “border.” Mohammed is a veteran farmer who has been growing vegetables and olives in his village and other moshavim in the area for years. His intelligence and farming experience, which cannot be learned in any college, come from a deep understanding of how to raise crops and how to love and respect the earth. Mohammed is our collector and teacher of edible weeds. More than once he has pointed to some wild plant or another and suggested a recipe for a tasty meal.
Our newest additions to the “Chubeza Salad” are Shacham from Kibbutz Nachshon, and Yossi from Har Adar. They’ve both joined recently and are making headway on the farm, learning from our veteran staff, and experiencing first-hand what pea picking in the rain is like, how heavy feet-in-boots can be after walking around the farm on a muddy day, and how delicious a lunch salad and hot sweet tea can be on a strenuous workday. We also have a supplemental crew that joins occasionally- Miriam and Sarah from Lod. They are our guardian angels, arriving just as the weeds are threatening to take over, weeding garden-bed after garden-bed. Our new very weedy farm could never have provided the produce in your boxes without the rescue team from Lod.
In addition to our paid workers, we have been blessed with very devoted volunteers who pitch in to help with the farm’s endless chores, enjoy the sun (or rainy days), get their hands muddy, strain their muscles, and of course, dine on Lobsang’s lunches… First and foremost is our oldest volunteer (so to speak), Alon’s grandfather, Avraham Sabach, who has arrived every Wednesday for the past three years to be Alon Karni’s personal assistant in weighing the vegetables and distributing them in the boxes. Over the past year, Rachel from Tel Aviv and Alon from Beit Shemesh have been coming faithfully every Monday harvest day, bright and early, to toil till almost the end of our workday– and making us feel we’re doing them a huge favor. Lately, Na’ama from Neve Ilan has joined as well, and together with her sister help us out with every necessary farming task.
Last but not least, Davidi from Bar Giora, who has been with us for the past two years in various jobs, comes on Wednesdays to help out with harvest.
You usually don’t come in contact with us, the actual farmers, but every week we do meet, via our loyal delivery team. Eyal delivers to the “Jerusalem outskirts” on Mondays and to the Jerusalemites on Wednesday. Ariel delivers a surprising amount of boxes to Jerusalemites on Wednesdays, Eli is in charge of Modiin-Jerusalem-Gush Ezion on Mondays and even Alon Karni joins the delivery forces (once a fortnight, at the end of a long workday) delivering to Nes Ziona, Rehovot and Mazkeret Batya. In the Tel Aviv area, Amit is in charge of the crew for clients of Tel-Aviv, Ramat Gan and Givatayim. Our delivery team has been with us for a long time. Neither rain nor shine, nor gloom of the night, car problems or other mishaps, will keep these men from delivering your fresh lettuce, carrots and broccoli that only yesterday were snuggled in the warm earth.
This combination of volunteers and workers, older and younger people, and the diverse cultural backgrounds of those on our farm is another aspect of poly-culture–the multi-culture that is not merely expressed in the variety of vegetables and species in a small farm. It’s a devoted group of people happy to bury their hands in the earth, who hope together for its successful harvest, who rejoice at the sight of the first potatoes, and sigh (sometimes with relief) when the last one is pulled from the earth. Most of all, they enjoy the farm work, the observation work, and the work of the heart that go with farming.
I apologize for the long newsletter this week. It was important to me to introduce you “personally” to each and every partner in our work, and to thank them all for joining us.
This week’s basket includes:
Monday: lettuce, carrots, Swiss chard / tatsoi / kale, turnip/kohlrabi, parsley, tomatoes, broccoli, new potatoes!, beets, green onions, cucumbers, celery
In the large box, in addition: cauliflower / green cabbage, peas, small radishes
Wednesday: tatsoi, parsley, tomatoes, spinach, broccoli, green cabbage, carrots, fennel/turnip, cucumbers, potatoes, green onions/celery
In the large box, in addition: kohlrabi, peas, lettuce
A Fairy-Tale Vegetable
As a child, we had an old storybook with innocent, old-fashioned drawings in light colors. I don’t remember any of the stories, but I do recall that one was about a turnip. The children in the story sowed a turnip in their yard, or ate it for lunch or something along those lines. I remember we kids being astonished: what is a turnip? We imagined it to be an exotic European vegetable that only grows in heavy winters (maybe the children in the illustrations were wearing coats?), with a heavenly taste (the children seemed very happy from their delectable meal).
In Israeli reality, the turnip rates very minimal acclaim. It is considered to be a boring, tasteless vegetable. But in stories, it is highly regarded.
The well-known “Eliezer V’HaGezer” story is originally the tale of a huge turnip that required the cooperation of all members of the household to pull it out of the ground. The original Jack O’Lantern was an Irish drunkard who scooped out the insides of a turnip and placed a candle to act as a lantern.
A Grimm Brothers tale tells about two brothers, one rich, one poor. The poor brother grows huge turnip in his yard, and because he can’t figure out what to do with it, brings it to the king who rewards him with a huge fortune of gold. When the rich brother hears, he comes to the king with his own gift: gold and horses. The king is enthralled by this gift, and in thanks, sends the rich brother home with his gift: a huge turnip.
But beyond fairy tales, the turnip deserves real respect for being a truly great vegetable. Perhaps underrated, because its taste is mild and not as pronounced as other vegetables. Which is unfortunate, because I fear we’re getting used to the strong tastes of over-seasoning, brought to us by fast food and nosh that bombard us with overbearing flavors. We then miss out on the more gentle savors, ones that don’t grab the stage and holler.
The modest turnip is an ancient cultured crop, known in Greece, Rome, China and ancient Egypt. Its origins are in China, central Asia and the Near East. In Israel, the turnip was grown during the times of the Mishna, where it is mentioned as a popular garden vegetable. It belongs to the Cruciferae family, a cousin to cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, garden rocket, mustard, horseradish, radishes and others. Like the rest of the family, it favors a cold winter climate that slows down the plant’s breathing and raises the quantity of the carbohydrate reserve, a process that improves its taste. Variable, unstable conditions will produce a woody root and strong flavor, and the turnip turns bitter if the weather is too hot or dry. Perhaps this why in Israel the turnip is a true winter vegetable. The plant develops a dense root with a crown of leaves on its head, similar to the radish. There are many varieties of turnip: the spherical, the round, the oblate and the skewered, and their colors vary from pink to purple to yellow.
In Israel, the root is the edible part, but in the Far East and southern United States it’s the leaves that are eaten, with some species specially developed for their leaves. The root is eaten raw, cooked or pickled, and the leaves are cooked like spinach. There are countries that produce oil from the seeds. Somewhere in cyberspace I read about a Canadian who married a southern American, and one day they decided to have turnip for dinner. At the supermarket he placed a turnip root into his cart, to his wife’s astonishment. She was used to giving the root to feed pigs, and demanded the greens instead. He declared that as far as he’s concerned, the turnip IS the root, and leaves are animal fodder. Sadly, neither ever touched a turnip again. The moral: both greens and root can be eaten.
So indulge yourself with turnips in everything from soup to meat dishes to cholent. Use the turnip as you would a carrot (crusted, steamed with butter, glazed) or a potato (chips, pureed). Combine long, thin pieces of raw turnip (made with a peeler) in a vegetable salad. Or pickle it for two days without pre-cooking in a sweet and sour liquid consisting of a cup of plain vinegar, a cup of water and a cup of sugar boiled together.
The turnip also has medicinal qualities. According to Nissim Crispil, it relieves coughing and hoarseness, mucus buildup and breathing problems. In natural medicine, quaffing turnip juice is said to improve your mood. It is also beneficial for the kidneys. Turnip roots contains calcium and potassium; drinking turnip-leaf juice aids in neutralizing excess blood acidity, and fortifying bones, hair, fingernails and teeth. 500 grams of turnip root will produce a glass of juice beneficial for anemia, arthritis, asthma, disruptions in the menstrual period, bladder obstruction, heart disease, fever, and kidney, liver and lung function. 500 grams of leaves will produce half a glass of juice (one quarter in the morning, a quarter in the evening) to heal a cough, hoarseness and hair loss.
Tips for Turnips:
- Peel and wash turnips just before preparing, to prevent darkening
- Cooking time for turnips is 5-10 minutes in boiling water.
- Since turnips tend to absorb a great deal of water, dry them a bit after cooking in a frying pan slightly greased with butter.
Ruth from Jerusalem sent me this one, fresh from last Shabbat’s meal: With all the turnips and sweet potatoes we’ve collected, I made up a soup Friday which everyone loved:
4-5 turnips, cleaned and trimmed
4-5 sweet potatoes
1-2 big onions
salt and pepper
a little butter
Sauté onions in olive oil. Add turnips and sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Cook in water till tender, then blend.
In a small frying pan, heat olive oil and a little butter, stir-fry fresh sage leaves till brownish. When serving soup, garnish with crumbled sage leaves.
Shalram—an Iraqi dish that’s perfect for very cold days and Shabatot
5-6 medium turnips, cleaned and trimmed
4-5 T. sugar
Water to cover
Salt (just a little)
Slice turnips in half or in quarters. Bring turnip slices, tea bag and sugar to a boil.
Now you have two options – you can lower heat and continue cooking until tender (about 20 minutes), or you can treat it as chulent: place it on the Shabbat plata and let it cook overnight. Serve warm.
Turnips, like other root vegetables, are particularly delicious as a puree, which brings out the flavor. Simply peel and boil in salted water. Once turnips are soft, drain and place in food processor with a bit of milk. In moments you’ll have a white, lustrous puree with a gentle bitter savor.
“Torshi” Tunisian Turnip Recipe (from www.matkonim.net )
A winter salad, hot-bitter-tart, served with couscous and also excellent with hamin
2 green chili peppers
4 cloves garlic
1 medium lime, or several Chinese lemons
1 T. Tunisian harissa
1 t. ground caraway seeds (kimmel)
2 T. regular oil
Clean and wash turnips. Cut to thin slices, and then cut each slice into small triangles. Slice the pepper and cut in thick rings. Peel the lime, slice into large pieces, and crush into the vegetable mixture. If using Chinese lemons, slice into small cubes. Slice garlic thinly. Add remaining ingredients and stir. Salad is ready immediately, but it’s preferable to leave at room temperature overnight to enhance the absorption of the flavors.
Turnip Salad, Lettuce and Carrots
Raw turnip and grated carrot
Fresh dill, chopped
Salt and pepper
Mix and serve
Like Other Vegetables, Turnips Can—and Should—be Preserved
Ingredients for pickling mixture:
1 c. sugar
1 c. vinegar
1 c. water
Carefully peel turnips and cut into cubes. Bring pickling liquid to a boil and pour over vegetables. Store in glass jar.
Can be served as soon as the liquid cools, or kept refrigerated for several weeks.